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KAI RYSSDAL: Farmers have been getting a lot of attention lately, for more than just rising food prices. Plop yourself down in front of the television tonight. You’ll be able to see reality TV’s rural answer to “The Bachelor,” when a show called “The Farmer Wants a Wife” debuts on the CW network. Beautiful women chasing lonely farmers may be new to American audiences, but the concept has been cloned from the Europeans. Filming has just started on a third season of the French version. They call the theirs “Love in the Meadows.” Insert your own joke here, but there are more than 100,000 single farmers in France.
John Laurenson reports, they’re not amused by their 15 minutes of fame.
JACQUES LAGARDE: I met one girl, and we went out together for a year, but then one day she said: “If you don’t want to come and live with me, you better stay with your sheep,” so I stayed with my sheep.
JOHN LAURENSON: Jacques Lagarde knows how difficult it is for farmers to find wives. He’s been single most of his adult life. It was easier for his father’s generation, he says. There were so many more people about. Twenty farmers, men and women, used to work in these fields, he says. Now, he’s the only one. It’s a situation Francois Purseigle, a sociologist specialized in rural affairs, says is typical, and often miserable.
FRANCOIS PURSEIGLE: Living in the countryside is very lonely. Farmers are often geographically distant from other people, and isolated in the middle of nowhere. More and more, the farmer is a man alone with his tractor.
One in five French farmers are now single, a sad situation for some, to be sure, but also a cracking opportunity to make some very successful commercial television.
The rooster crows. The cow bells go ding-dong. It’s “Love is in the Meadows.” Some amiable, but not always eloquent, country folk are about to let the television cameras zoom in on their fumbling attempts to find, as a presenter puts it, “Amour,” with a capital A. Yes, there’s weeping, amid a good bit of clucking and mooing, as a number of young farmers meet a series of women volunteers, in a bid to find someone to share their lives and their livestock.
LOVE IS IN THE MEADOWS CLIP: Bonjour.
In this scene, a girl comes to meet a farmer’s parents. Everyone says hello, but no one can think of anything else to say. They stand there for an excruciatingly long time, while the cameraman just keeps filming. Difficult to watch, but difficult to switch off, and not a super-flattering picture of farming folk. The farming unions have, without exception, condemned the show.
I meet up with Thierry Gilbert, president of the youth wing of France’s second largest farming union, Coordination Rurale, as he’s trying to fix a new corn masher to the front of his combine harvester. Mr. Gilbert is, as it happens, single, but thinks the show’s an insulting caricature of rural life.
THIERRY GILBERT: It’s always the farmer getting up at five in the morning, doing this for his cows, doing that for his cows. In one episode, a guy picks up a woman in a horse and cart. This is a completely antiquated image of farming life.
Fremantle Media, one of the world’s biggest producers of soap operas, reality TV and game-shows, told us they didn’t consult farmers about making the program, but they do give a fair portrayal of modern farming life. They weren’t able to reveal the amount of money the show has made them, but confirmed that almost 10 percent of the population of France were watching it.
Back in the hills, Jacques Lagarde wouldn’t be seen dead in “Love is in the Meadows,” but he has resorted to an original and adventurous solution to his long-term celibacy problem. Through a friend of a friend of his uncle’s, he’s found himself a wife in Ukraine. Valeria Lagarde, as she’s now called, plays with a kitten in the little house in the mountains, where she now lives with her sheep-rearing husband.
VALERIA LAGARDE: I was in a big city before, but coming here wasn’t a shock. I dreamed of moving to the country. It wasn’t easy at first, because I didn’t speak French, but I love it here.
Jacques’ friends say he’s a changed man since he met Valeria, much more outgoing, and “Love is in the Meadows?” Now he can see the funny side.
In Verrerie-de-Moussans, I’m John Laurenson for Marketplace.
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